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Farmers: Power lines will limit use of their land for crops

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POSTED May 15, 2009 2:11 a.m.
TRACY – South County  farmers worried that power transmission lines being considered that may severely impact – if not completely take away – their property aren’t holding back.

Dozens poured into the Old River Golf Course in Tracy Thursday morning to meet with members of the Transmission Agency of Northern California – or TANC – who are considering the construction of transmission lines from the Lassen County region over to Redding and eventually down through the San Joaquin Valley before heading over to Santa Clara.

The meeting was organized and sponsored by the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.

Representing 15 member agencies – including the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts – TANC is planning on tapping into the renewable energy available in Northern California to allow for its distribution by the non-profit members that comprise it in order to meet new laws that will eventually require 20 percent of all energy provided to California customers to come from renewable sources.

That number is expected to grow to 33 percent by 2020.

But for family farmers operating on smaller parcels, the placing of a tower that would require a 200-foot easement as well as access and egress points could be disastrous – not to mention that the trees that run under the transmission lines can’t be any taller than 15 feet. They contend it would essentially render that part of their property useless.

According to TANC General Manager Bryan Griess, everything that is being discussed right now is extremely preliminary. It will likely take two years for the Environmental Impact Review to be completed before the agency would proceed with such a massive project.

The lines on the maps that have been listed on the agency’s website, Griess said, are just as preliminary – drawn to show how the route will likely flow but not the definite path that it will take if and when it were to be constructed.

But residents that are waiting in anticipation to see whether their properties will be affected aren’t about the concept of having parcels – some of which have been in families for up to five generations – reduced to nothing or eliminated altogether.

“It’s like we’re putting life on hold here while we wait,” said Hiram Sibley – the owner of Old River who provided the space for Thursday’s meeting. “This is detrimental to all of us because if we want to put something on our land, it’s going to be three or four years before we find out whether that land is still going to be ours.”

On top of the normal planning processes, the project will still have to clear the environmental groups in Northern California that don’t want to see the expansive refuge areas impacted – creating what Griess called a “push-pull” effect between the agricultural community and the environmentalists.

“We have an ever growing amount of land that could be used for this,” Farm Bureau Executive Director Bruce Blodgett said of a strip between the two rivers currently designated for habitat use. “It would be the perfect place bypass houses and farms, but because you have an ant or a rabbit living there then you can’t build anything out there.”

Members of the Farm Bureau said they have contacted Congressman Jerry McNerney – who has experience with renewable energy – for his guidance and assistance on how to proceed.
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